HAMILTON – Ravalli County has agreed to pay its former road supervisor, David Ohnstad, $125,000 to settle a wrongful discharge lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula.
The settlement was completed April 25, following mediation.
On Wednesday, Ravalli County Commission chairman Greg Chilcott said he had not yet seen the settlement between Ohnstad and the county’s insurance carrier.
Chilcott said the settlement will be paid by the insurance firm.
Ohnstad filed the wrongful discharge suit in 2012 after being fired by the commission for allegedly making false statements to the board about paving work done on Upper Woodchuck Road east of Florence.
In his lawsuit, Ohnstad maintained the commission’s allegations were false.
The suit claimed the commission’s newest board members began questioning his job right after they were elected in 2010, which included holding a meeting with road department employees to solicit complaints against Ohnstad before they officially took office.
Ohnstad’s suit said Commissioner Ron Stoltz led the investigation into the Upper Woodchuck Road matter.
The paving work on the little-used road was completed as part of a lawsuit settlement with developers Niki and Aldo Sardot.
The couple sued the county after the previous commission denied a subdivision request in 2007.
A settlement two years later required the county to pave 1.25 miles of Upper Woodchuck Road, which led to a subdivision owned by the Sardots in Missoula County.
Ohnstad ended up caught between conflicting instructions to do the least amount possible on the road from the previous commission to being ordered to perform an additional $40,000 of work by the new commission.
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The commission informed Ohnstad of the allegations he had made false statements in November 2011. Following a daylong hearing in January 2012, commissioners Matt Kanenwisher, Suzy Foss and Stoltz voted in favor of finding that Ohnstad had lied.
Commissioners J.R. Iman and Greg Chilcott voted against the motion.
The road supervisor was then fired.
As part of the terms of the settlement, the Ravalli County human resources employee will be required to inform any prospective employers of Ohnstad only of his dates of employment, salary and that he is eligible for rehire. The county will be required to keep a log of all such contacts and preserve any written or electronic communications.
“The case has been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties,” said Ohnstad’s attorney, John Kutzman.
Ohnstad is currently living in northern Minnesota close to his family.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Ohnstad said he believed the settlement to be reasonable.
“It has taken some time, but that’s the way the court system works,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it had to go to that extent, but it seems that it’s not that unusual there anymore.”
Ohnstad said the terms of the agreement don’t allow him to speak freely on the merits of the case.
“The terms of the agreement speak for themselves,” he said. “I’m not at liberty to go beyond that. It’s not that I don’t want to, but I will heed my legal counsel’s advice and restrain myself.”
Ohnstad said he’s proud of what he and others in the road department were able to accomplish during his tenure.
“It was a good position to have with the ability of the employees of the department and the support of the board of county commissioners,” he said. “At the time, we were able to do some very good things. I think most objective viewers would agree with that.”